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Originally published Sunday, November 9, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Huge contemporary art show sweeps New Orleans

Prospect.1 New Orleans showcases the work of 81 artists in the city's largest international art show in a century.

The Associated Press

Art exhibition

"Prospect.1 New Orleans"

Through Jan. 18, 2009, in numerous venues and sites throughout New Orleans. For information go to www.prospectneworleans.org.

NEW ORLEANS —

A huge wooden ark made from the wood of houses Hurricane Katrina wrecked and a pool of water that reflects pulsing light are among the exhibits of 81 artists whose works are on view in New Orleans's largest international art show in a century.

Prospect.1 New Orleans, which opened last week, displays works of art in 15 locations throughout the city. It is expected to draw an estimated 100,000 visitors during its three-month run.

"This is an amazing event," said E. John Bullard, director of the New Orleans Museum of Art. "In addition to the biennial sites, there are 70 other exhibits going on in galleries around town. You need several days to see everything."

Bullard and exhibit organizers say it is one of the largest international contemporary-art exhibitions ever staged in the United States. The event is planned as the beginning of a biennial — an art show that is held in the same city every other year, similar to shows in 25 other cities, including Venice, Italy; Sydney, Australia; Shanghai and São Paulo, Brazil.

"These shows are very successful, sometimes incredibly successful," said Dan Cameron, the founder and curator of Prospect.1. The influx of visitors drawn by the show promises to be a financial bonus for the city, which is still struggling to build its tourism industry after Katrina hit on Aug. 29, 2005.

Travelers eager to see the show began showing up the day before it opened, said Mary Beth Romig, spokeswoman for the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"The visual-arts community is very important to us," Romig said. "This show raises the profile of the city and brings in a cultural traveler that tends to stay a little longer and spend a little more." Several museum groups have made plans to visit New Orleans to see the exhibition, she said.

Biennials attract a special set of fans, Cameron said, ranging from international collectors to students to teachers and regional tourists who combine the chance to spend a weekend in a location such as New Orleans with a chance to see the exhibits.

"The artists themselves are what makes a show like this successful," Cameron said. "And we have a wonderful group of artists."

Cameron raised $3.5 million to stage the show.

Although there is no set theme for the show, Cameron said many of the artists took the organizers up on their invitation to visit the city and get to know it before deciding on a project.

"They were able to learn about the culture here, the people and the problems, and then take that home and think about it before they decided what to do," he said.

An example of that influence is the work by Paul Villinski, a former resident of New Orleans who now lives in New York. Villinski created the "Emergency Response Studio," for Prospect.1, a 30-foot Federal Emergency Management Agency trailer, such as those used to house people after Hurricane Katrina. The trailer, which is wind and solar powered, can be moved to disaster sites to lodge displaced or visiting artists.

Artist Mark Bradford created a life-size wooden ark in the Lower 9th Ward. He used the shells of destroyed homes and other discarded pieces of wood from houses in the neighborhood that was among the hardest hit by Katrina.

All the exhibits are free, and a free shuttle will ferry locals and visitors from place to place.

The event is planned to repeat in 2010, Cameron said, and every other year "into infinity."

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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